I hear it all the time.
“I am only attracted to one type of guy (girl), and he (she) jerks me around. What’s wrong with me?”
There are a lot of things that go into attraction and partner selection. Often people find themselves in patterns of one type of partner that never turns out well. We at eHarmony Labs have written about some of the interesting reason like interpersonal transference before but there are other potential reasons for why this happens.
You keep looking in the same places.
You can only find a partner from those people you meet. It used to be that you were most likely to marry someone who lived within 3-4 blocks. But because the same types of people tend to live in the same areas, and go to the same places it can mean you are only meeting a certain type of person. Often people hang out in places where they are unlikely to find potential partners who are good relationship material. For example, our own research has shown that partners who meet in bars, clubs, and social events tend to have relationships that are less satisfying and divorce at a higher rate. So if you keep looking for a partner in your local watering hole you are probably not going to meet anyone who is different.
You are looking at the wrong time.
Over the last 20-30 years the age of first marriage has been going up steadily in America. People are getting more education and delaying marriage so they can become established in their own lives. While this is changing the way Americans perceive marriage, most still want to and do get married. What it means is that not everyone is quite ready to get married. So if you are looking for someone to settle down with, and you are in your early to mid 20s, you may find a stream of potential partners who are busy finishing their advanced degrees and setting themselves up in their careers. People still desire fulfilling long term relationships across all ages, but getting there may be a little different than in decades past.
You may be acting out a self-fulfilling prophecy
It may also be that you are going out with the same type of partner because of how you view yourself and what you expect in relationships. We aren’t always aware of these expectations and they exert powerful influences on our behavior. Often, we behave in a way that can make those expectations come true, even when it means a relationship will go badly.
Your attachment style is a good example.
Attachment style is the basic psychology of how we see ourselves and our partners in relationships. Some people have a secure attachment style, which means they believe they are worthy of a good relationship and that close partners will treat them well. Others have an avoidant attachment style. They think that close partners are unlikely to treat them well, so close relationships should be avoided. Finally, there are some who have an anxious attachment style. They believe that they are unworthy of being treated well by romantic partner but want to be in a relationship. Your attachment style is rooted all the way back to your childhood and as John Bowlby, the founder of attachment theory, said will impact you “from cradle to grave”.
Your attachment style is not just your expectations of a relationship. Attachment also changes the way you act with a partner. And you will act in a way that makes your expectations of a relationship come true. For example, if a partner doesn’t call when they said they would, someone with a secure attachment style would most likely attribute it to bad circumstances “they must have gotten caught late at work” and would be quick to forgive that partner when they did call. Someone with an anxious attachment style may worry that their partner has found someone else and be angry, accuse their partner of cheating the next time they speak, or for proclamations of love or commitment beyond what the situation demands. I go into more depth about this in my book “Dating the Second Time Around”.
These different behaviors change the way partners react. The partner of a secure individual gets the message that they are trusted, and the relationship is solid enough that it can survive the minor transgression of not calling relatively easily. This allows the relationship to grow stronger and more trusting. The partner of an anxious individual may end up defensive and stressed trying to explain that not calling isn’t a reflection of his commitment or feelings toward the partner. . If this happens a lot, they may become so frustrated that they leave the relationship, which fulfills the expectation of the anxiously attached individual.
But it isn’t all doom and gloom. Attachment styles can change over time. When individuals with anxious and avoidant attachment styles get into secure relationships they tend to become more securely attached over time. Moreover, as people gain more experience in relationships they also gain perspective on what makes up a good relationship and how to achieve it. You can even do simple things to help your confidence in relationships or optimism.
There are many reasons why you may be dating the same type of person repeatedly. If this is a dynamic you wish to break out of, look to meet people in a different place (on-line dating can help you expand your pool of potential partners), or who is in a stage of life that is ready to handle a relationship. Once you meet this person, don’t rush the expectations for love (or the sex, for that matter). If you find yourself in particularly destructive self-fulfilling prophecies you may consider getting professional help. With these few steps, you will learn more about yourself and your relationship goals, giving you a better chance of finding someone better suited for you.